24 Tips for Visiting an Italian Family

Posted on
Dec 19, 2012

Sometimes, I take for granted how much my husband puts up with.

Indeed, that might be the understatement of the year. If my beloved is reading this, he’s probably done a spit take all over his computer while sputtering, “YOU THINK?”

My poor, maligned love. He puts up with a lot. From me. And during the holidays, from his in-laws, too. Which I argue is his fault.

I mean, I was born into them. I had no choice. He walked right into this situation, mostly sober. THE FOOL.

Don’t get me wrong: my family can be delightful, and they seem to really like Rand. But they are all, each and every one of them, certifiably insane. Absolutely mental.

There are a few exceptions – dear women who, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, decide to throw a crazy wrench into the machinery of their normal lives, and married into my family.

Other than this glaring lack of judgement, they seem rather sane. It’s only a matter of time, though, before they become as nuts as the rest. As any medical professional will tell you, being bonkers is highly contagious.

In the meantime, Rand has them with whom to commiserate, to look at with wide eyes and shake his head, or shrug and say, “Eh. The in-laws … am I right?”

This post is for them – it’s advice for people who are about to visit an Italian household (whether it be in Italy, or in the U.S.). Rand and those poor souls who married into my family learned most of this stuff already, the hard way.

It might be helpful to the rest of you, too. Especially if you have managed to fall in love with some hirsute Italian boy or girl, and are planning on spending time with their family this holiday season. (I’m not sure whether to congratulate you on your luck, or pray for your soul. I might do a bit of both.)

And with that, here are my 24 tips for visiting an Italian household during the holidays … or any time, really.

  1. If you are staying in someone’s home, note that bathrooms will likely not contain trash cans, nor will any of the bedrooms. In fact, it’s incredibly hard to find any sort of garbage receptacle anywhere, and you will likely need to make your own. After collecting refuse for several days, and then presenting it to your hostess, she will be mortified that you have been hoarding trash, and will likely clutch her heart and may possibly faint. Be prepared for this.
  2. If you say you are not hungry, know that the comment will be perceived in any of these ways:

    “You are a terrible cook.”

    “You have failed as a mother/grandmother/aunt/provider.”

    “I don’t love you.”

    (This goes ditto for not consuming seconds.)
    – – 
  3. Note that saying that you are hungry can be equally disastrous. This is tantamount to claiming that you are near death from starvation, and may expire at any moment. Large quantities of food will be presented to you, and must be eaten in a frenzy. Instead, even if you are famished, state that you “could have a little snack.” Understand that said snack will be a banquet.

    Your starter will be pasta. Your main will also be pasta. And for dessert? Pasta.

  4. Though appearances might suggest otherwise, the house was not decorated by an aspiring club promoter circa 1986 (probably). Despite being abreast of most fashion trends, the majority of Italians seem about twenty years behind when it comes to interior design. A framed poster of the Colosseum? Sure. A few dozen Patrick Nagel prints? YES.
  5. The woman wearing knee-high boots and a leopard print top is someone’s grandmother. Don’t think about this too much.
  6. “What do you mean you aren’t Catholic? … Methodist? What the hell is that?”
  7. Espresso will be offered to you in the morning. Also at 10am, noon, 3pm, 5pm, and 8pm. You will be expected to partake in at least half of these opportunities.
  8. Should you get the shakes after consuming half a gallon of coffee, expect several people to gently squeeze your shoulder and tell you to calm down. They will blame your nerves on “city life”, “working too much,” or simply “being American.” But obviously not the coffee.
  9. “You paid how much for that bottle of wine? You know Carlo Rossi is two gallons for $7 and it’s just as good.”
  10. The greatest contributions to society have been made by Italians. Mostly by Galileo, Da Vinci, and DeNiro.

    Also, all art and history and culture and language and good things come from Italy and nowhere else.

  11. You will inevitably share a meal with someone who is dressed in only a shirt and bikini briefs. 90% of the time, said individual will be a male. Roughly 50% of the time, he will be over the age of 50. DO NOT BREAK THE HORIZONTAL PLANE.

  12. At some point, you will see a 100-pound, middle-aged woman demolish a plate of pasta roughly the size of a pile of laundry, along with a loaf of bread and maybe some salad. She will then skip dessert because “that stuff makes you fat.” Resist the urge to punch her, as she is probably my mother. (And all her goddamn genes are recessive.)
  13. If you are a vegetarian, you will be offered prosciutto as an alternative to meat. If you are gluten-free … please get over that, or leave the house immediately.
  14. Andy Garcia is Italian, as is evidenced by his role in The Godfather, Part III. It is best if you do not argue this point, despite glaring evidence to the contrary.
  15. Jon Stewart is Italian, too.
  16. Obviously Colbert is as well. (Your failure to know this stuff is just evidence of the media’s rampant anti-Italianism.)
  17. Unless you have been specifically instructed by the host to sit at the head of the table, do not even think of doing so. Ditto for the foot of the table.
  18. High decibel yelling and screaming, standing up and waving limbs, hysterical crying and slamming of fists on the table are all part of standard conversation and should not be misconstrued as signs of actual conflict.
  19. The same can be said of the brandishing of weapons and/or rosary beads.
  20. If you are dating a woman in the family, expect to sleep on the couch, or in a twin bed in her little brother’s room, or possibly outside.

    If you are dating a man in the family, you can totally sleep in his bedroom, but note that the hushed conversations, disapproving looks, and head-shaking are totally about you.

    (Note: I’m presuming heterosexual relationships here. I don’t know how Italian chauvinism translates to gay and lesbian culture, but I suspect it would be a fascinating study.)
  21. If you give someone a gift, you will find that gratitude is often expressed through guilt and tears. For some reason, simply saying “thank you” and being happy isn’t appropriate. But serious grief and distress over the bracelet you bought them totally is.
  22. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to rise from, or remove the dishes from, the dinner table within the two hours immediately following a meal. Your unwillingness to sit and talk to your hosts for 120 minutes is a clear sign that you hate them.
  23. At any given time, someone will be running around in a state of hysterical panic. It’s cool. Just let them do their thing.
  24. “What are you wearing? You’re going to catch cold in that.”

Man, I should have written this for my husband years ago. Eh, better late than never.

Happy Chrismukkah, baby.


Note: I know that stereotyping is lame. I realize that not all Italian families are the same. Hell, not even all crazy families are the same. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned from my family (a family that happens to be Italian. And crazy.) So if you are tempted to write me some hate mail, may I kindly suggest you take your anger and direct it back to Instagram, where it belongs? Apparently they are stealing your IP and setting fire to puppies, or something.

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